For nearly three years, Cafe Van Kleef has played a proud role in the hipsterization of uptown Oakland with its funky art and funky jazz performances. Now, the future of the little bar that could is in doubt: Peter Van Kleef says his new landlords have spent the past few months trying to kick him out, citing trumped-up reasons. "I'm so tired of this," he sighs. "I'm a saloon guy and that's all I want to do. I don't really want to deal with this."
"This" all started after a consortium of eight partnerships bought the building at 1621 Telegraph Avenue last fall. Van Kleef says things quickly soured during his initial sit-down with some of the owners. According to Van Kleef, they wanted him to give them his basement and mezzanine space. He was willing to do so only if he could get something in return like the space next door, so he could expand. Ever since he resisted their demand, Van Kleef says they've been trying to get rid of him.
But that won't be easy: The bar owner has a 25-year lease, which he negotiated with his previous landlord. So, he says, the new landlords began raising dubious allegations showing him to be in violation of that lease. They claimed, for instance, that patrons were smoking inside the bar, which he denies. Last month, they sent him an eviction notice for hosting live-music shows without the cabaret license required from the city. As it turns out, Van Kleef was indeed violating city rules, although the bar owner says that no one made an issue of it until the new owners came along.
One of the owners, Stephen DeJesse, denies that he or his partners have been waging a campaign to get rid of the bar. DeJesse says everyone knew when they bought the building that Van Kleef, with his superlong lease, would come with the package. "He's more of an asset than a detriment to this area," DeJesse allows.
DeJesse says the building owners have been trying to get Van Kleef to address various safety hazards, particularly fire risks like bad electrical wiring that is not up to code. In a March 31 letter to City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, DeJesse expressed concerns that the pub's live shows attract large crowds even though the place has only one exit. DeJesse invoked the specter of the Great White concert in Rhode Island where a fire killed 100 people as something that could repeat itself at Cafe Van Kleef.
Van Kleef's lawyer Thomas Ostly questions DeJesse's purported safety concerns, noting that Van Kleef has never been cited by the city for code violations. The lawyer also dismisses any comparisons to the Rhode Island tragedy, which resulted from pyrotechnics fired off at a heavy metal show. The jazz musicians who play at Van Kleef typically don't blow up shit during their performances.
Ostly says the owners have backed off on their last eviction threat. In the meantime, Van Kleef has applied for a cabaret license from the city so he can keep offering live music. Good thing for him that he has friends in high places: Cafe Van Kleef happens to be one of Mayor Jerry Brown's favorite neighborhood watering holes. Last year, for instance, he spontaneously showed up during an Express bash there. Brown's press secretary, Gil Duran, also has been known to stop by for a cocktail once in a while and has clearly taken Van Kleef's side of the landlord-tenant dispute: "They're acting like Peter's stockpiling WMDs or harboring al-Qaeda," he says.
Lifelong Democrat or GOP Turncoat?
In this era of term limits, party primaries usually determine the next Assemblymember or state Senator, especially in safe Democratic or Republican districts (obviously, mostly the former in the Bay Area). Candidates in these intraparty skirmishes often engage in a quien-es-más-macho type of rhetorical combat over who boasts the better party credentials. To wit: The criticisms being leveled in the 18th Assembly District race between Democrats Mary Hayashi and Bill McCammon.
Not too long ago, a Hayashi supporter passed around fliers at a meeting of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee that asked in big letters, "Bill McCammon Democrat?" and stated that five years ago, McCammon donated $125 to the Assembly campaign of Republican Guy Houston, who was running to represent the Tri-Valley area. During that campaign, he told a pro-life group he opposed using public money for abortions, the flier said. Houston went on to beat Democrat Donna Gerber and last year earned a zero rating from the Sierra Club.
Hayashi told Feeder she thinks McCammon's support for Houston is something Democratic voters in this Democratic district which includes Hayward, San Leandro, Castro Valley, and a small sliver of Oakland should know about. "We're not talking about a moderate Republican," she argues. "We're talking about Guy Houston, someone with a zero rating from the Sierra Club."
Then there's the issue of the school reform group, EdVoice, dumping $125,000 into an independent expenditure committee backing McCammon. A labor activist backing Hayashi recently e-mailed South County Democrats blasting EdVoice as an organization that champions school vouchers, charter schools, and Wal-Mart. "Many believe their real goal is the privatization of the public school system," the e-mail ranted.
In truth, it's hard to pigeonhole EdVoice as a Republican thang. The group was once headed up by former Democratic Assemblyman Ted Lempert. And the group's political director Paul Mitchell points out that it's backing Democrats in all six legislative races in which EdVoice has started an independent expenditure committee. Mitchell adds that the group doesn't endorse vouchers and never got money from Wal-Mart's Sam Walton (though it did get cash from his late son, John).
In any event, McCammon, the chief of the Alameda County Fire Department, says he's a lifelong Democrat. He explains that as chief he'd had a good working relationship with Houston when Houston was mayor of Dublin. "I certainly don't share his views once he got in the Assembly," McCammon says of Houston.
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